“Why Do You Speak to Them in Parables?”
Jesus’ teaching method most likely made little or no sense to the disciples, and even less to the average Israelite. The disciples may have recognized that the people did not understand what Jesus meant, because He always spoke to them in parables. This man who did all kinds of spectacular miracles was obviously sent from God, but He talked about things that seemed to be unimportant … like a farmer sowing seed. There’s no way to know, but we can well imagine the chosen twelve wondering, “Wouldn’t a man of God talk about more important things?” Surely a man on a mission of God would talk about weightier things: righteousness and sin, keeping and breaking the law, covenant, life and death, and judgment and blessings. Aren’t those the kind of things we expect our pastors and evangelists to speak of? Jesus did of course speak of those things, but even then His speech was a parable. But the things we generally identify as parables are the simple stories He told, some of which are recorded in Matthew 13. The first of these stories is often called the Parable of the Sower.
1 That day Jesus went out of the house and was sitting by the sea.
2 And large crowds gathered to Him, so He got into a boat and sat down, and the whole crowd was standing on the beach.
3 And He spoke many things to them in parables, saying, “Behold, the sower went out to sow;
4 and as he sowed, some seeds fell beside the road, and the birds came and ate them up.
5 Others fell on the rocky places, where they did not have much soil; and immediately they sprang up, because they had no depth of soil.
6 But when the sun had risen, they were scorched; and because they had no root, they withered away.
7 Others fell among the thorns, and the thorns came up and choked them out.
8 And others fell on the good soil and yielded a crop, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty.
9 He who has ears, let him hear.” (Matthew 13:1-9)
There are actually many ways the Parable of the Sower could be interpreted. For example, the sower could be a sales person, the soils different types of customers, and the seed the sales pitch. The problem with this explanation is that it has no Biblical veracity. The only correct explanation comes from the Holy Spirit, and only a renewed spiritual heart will actually see the true, revealed meaning and significance of the Parable of the Sower or any Biblical parable. Therefore, Jesus explained the parables to the disciples privately (see Mark 4:33-35) as the Holy Spirit does today. When Jesus explained the parable of the sower, He began by saying, “Hear then the parable of the sower.” (Matthew 13:18) His was THE explanation from a spiritual, kingdom of God perspective, not another interpretation coming from a man or woman’s mind.
It is critical that you understand this concept:
Jesus taught with parables so they could be understood by those who were in a spiritual position to receive their meanings. A changed heart is necessary to receive the correct meaning of a parable from the Holy Spirit.
The only ones who will ever understand the Bible’s nearly endless parables are those who are born again and have the Holy Spirit within them, because it is the Holy Spirit who reveals the meaning of the parables. Remember that Jesus was not, and is not, interested in making people smart, i.e., He wasn’t interested in teaching people how to sow seed or search for valuable jewels, and He wasn’t interested in teaching people great theological lessons so they would become walking theological libraries. He was and is interested in changing hearts. And here’s a promise from God: Everyone who turns his or her heart away from its original sinful condition will receive a new heart … and every such person who turns to Jesus will receive the Holy Spirit … and the Holy Spirit will reveal the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. And that is the only way the Bible will ever be accurately understood one hundred percent of the time.
Let me make a point of clarification:
Even a totally born again person who has the Holy Spirit residing within will not rightly understand any Bible parable with their own mind. The meaning of Bible parables must be revealed by the Holy Spirit. Any interpretation of a Bible parable that is not the result of a Holy Spirit revelation is merely human conjecture.
Ask yourself if you would have understood the Parable of the Sower if you were hearing it for the first time as were the disciples and the people in the crowd. I don’t think I would. In fact, I’m sure I didn’t understand it the first time I read it. Clearly the disciples did not, and they were probably pretty sure the people didn’t either. So they asked the question we all would most likely ask:
10 And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables?” (Matthew 13:10)
The answer Jesus gives doesn’t seem to be more clear than the parable.
11 Jesus answered them, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.
12 For whoever has, to him more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has shall be taken away from him.
13 Therefore I speak to them in parables; because while seeing they do not see, and while hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.
14 In their case the prophecy of Isaiah is being fulfilled, which says, ‘you will keep on hearing, but will not understand; you will keep on seeing, but will not perceive;
15 for the heart of this people has become dull, with their ears they scarcely hear, and they have closed their eyes, otherwise they would see with their eyes, hear with their ears, and understand with their heart and return, and I would heal them.’
16 But blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear.
17 For truly I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.” (Matthew 13:11-17)
Jesus says in verse 13, that He speaks to the people in parables because the people don’t understand them. Is Jesus saying that He does not want the people to understand the parables? Of course not. Jesus wants everyone, in Bible days and now, to understand Him. Therefore, there had to be another really good reason for Jesus to use parables.
There were essentially two reasons for teaching in parables.
- In order to understand a parable, a person must be in a place spiritually to be able to see the other side of the story.
- The meaning of the parable must be explained by someone who knows the meaning.
Point two means that the Holy Spirit is the one who reveals the meaning of the parables to believers. While Jesus was on earth, He explained the parables to the disciples thereby filling the role of the Holy Spirit for the disciples before the day of Pentecost and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
The first point means that a person must have a new spiritual identity to be able to see the meaning of the parable. In other words they must be born again and have the Spirit within them. The Holy Spirit is the revealer of the truth. He gives believers understanding of all the parables of the Bible. This is what Jesus was referring to in verse 11 when He said: “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted.” It is granted that believers will have the Holy Spirit who will explain the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven … the mysteries that are hidden in the parables of the Bible.
Another reason Jesus taught with parables is to point to how God reveals Himself to mankind. The truth of the Bible is hidden in parables, and it is revealed by the Holy Spirit. Most of the truth of the Kingdom of heaven, of God’s glorious nature and His love for us, is hidden from plain view. It is hidden in parables that are hidden among an entire book of parables. Everyone who repents … returns to the Lord with all their heart and all their soul … receives the gift of the Holy Spirit … and is in a place to receive revelations of understanding from the Holy Spirit.
So Jesus spoke in parables for many reasons. We will have really learned something if we have come to see the critical role of parables in Bible understanding. I am prepared to say that until we, as individuals and as the body of Christ, understand the importance of parables and the revelations of understanding from the Holy Spirit, we will never come into the unity of the Spirit.